Continuing crisis


(“Kathimerini”, English edition, March 14, 2001)

Western pressure has so far failed to curb the activity of armed, organized Albanian rebels in northern FYROM. The evacuatioan of the border village of Tanusevsci has merely shifted the source of conflict. Members of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army have entrenched themselves in neighboring villages, practically questioning the authority of the Skopje government.

FYROM’s army and police forces have over the last few days mobilized in the region, but it remains questionable whether they are capable of eliminating the Albanian guerrillas. The problem is primarily political. A top ethnic Albanian leader recently set recognition of the Albanian community as an equal nation in the context of a “Albanian-Macedonian Federation” as a precondition for the termination of military activity. He also threatened that unless his request is met, he will expand his activity across the country and then it will be too late for compromise solutions.

The formation of the National Democratic Party, widely seen as the political wing of the Liberation Army, aims to transcend the two moderate traditional Albanian parties which have formed coalition governments with Slav-Macedonian parties. The central demand of the new party is the transformation of FYROM into a “state of Macedonians and Albanians” and the creation of a decentralized government. In other words, it repeats the position of the rebels in a more elegant fashion.

Arben Xhaferi’s Democratic Albanian Party staged a march of many thousands of Albanians in the center of Skopje. Even though the rally aimed to support the demands of the Albanian community and a peaceful settlement of the crisis, the climate was tense and the place overwhelmed by Albanian flags. Many demonstrators actually booed Greece for supporting the Slav-Macedonians. Xhaferi’s party has refrained from military activity mainly because it fears international isolation and Western reaction. On the other hand it fears that it might be overcome by the momentum of irridentia and the new party which expresses it. It is indicative that the moderate Xhaferi reiterated the demand that Albanians be recognized as an equal nation and did not rule out the possibility of a future secession.

Even Slav-Macedonian officials admit that their country has entered a crisis which could prove fatal for FYROM’s integrity. Even if Western pressure forces Albanian rebels to de-escalate their military activity—which seems highly unlikely—this will only be a lull.


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